History of Winchester
England's Ancient capital
Winchester is steeped in history. People visit this beautiful city for many different reasons but it's the history that keeps people coming back.
So what is the history of Winchester?
in AD43, shortly after the Romans landed in Kent, Iron Age forts across the whole of southern Britain were captured and Roman rule was imposed upon the local population.
It seems that the residents of Winchester didn’t put up much of a fight and may have actually welcomed the Romans in with open arms due to the hill fort falling into disrepair. The Romans started to build their own ‘new town’ at Winchester, known as Venta Belgarum (market place of the Belgae). Over centuries of Roman occupation this new town became the region’s capital with streets laid out in a grid pattern to accommodate the houses, shops, temples and public baths. By the 3rd century the wooden town defences were replaced with stone walls, at which time Winchester extended to almost 150 acres, making it the fifth largest town in Roman Britain
The Saxons referred to the now almost abandoned Roman settlements as ‘caester’, and so in west Saxon Wessex, Venta Belgarum became Venta Caester, before being changed to Wintancaester and eventually the name we know today, Winchester.
Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, King Harold’s widow, who was staying in Winchester, surrendered the town to the invading Normans. Shortly after William the Conqueror ordered the rebuilding of the Saxon royal palace and the construction of a new castle to the west of the town. The Normans were also responsible for demolishing the Old Minster Cathedral and starting the construction of the new present cathedral on the same site in 1079.
During the Middle Ages most of the fortunes of Winchester rested on the woollen industry. In Winchester wool was cleaned, spun, dyed and woven into cloth to be sold but by 1500 there was so much competition throughout the south of England for this industry that it’s estimated the town's population shrunk to around just 4,000.
The town’s decline was to worsen in 1538-9 with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. In Winchester this meant the city’s three monastic institutions were sold off to the highest bidder including their lands, buildings and other possessions further reducing the importance of this once great town.
During the English Civil War from 1642-1651, Winchester changed hands several times. Through Winchester’s long established association with royalty the locals supported the king so in one of the final acts of that long and bloody conflict Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament of England army destroyed Winchester Castle, preventing it from falling into royalist hands ever again.